After two more elephants were found dead recently, conservationists and veterinarians are warning that elephants are dying from eating plastic waste lying in open garbage dumps in eastern Sri Lanka.
Around 20 elephants have lost their lives in the past eight years after swallowing plastic waste lying in a garbage dump in Pallakkadu village of Anpara district, about 210 km from Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo.
Wildlife veterinarian Nihal Pushpakumar said an examination of the dead animals revealed that they had consumed a huge amount of non-degradable plastic from the garbage dump. “Polythene, food wrappers, plastic and non-digestible material and water are the only things that we can see in the post-mortem. The normal food that elephants eat and digest were not seen.”
Elephants are highly respected in Sri Lanka. At the same time, they are also endangered in the country. According to the country’s first elephant census report, their number was 14,000 in the 19th century, which decreased to 6,000 in 2011.
In 2017, the Sri Lankan government announced that it will recycle the garbage in dumps near wildlife zones to prevent elephants from consuming plastic waste. It also said electric fences would be erected around the sites to keep the animals away. However, neither has been fully implemented.
There are 54 waste dumps in wildlife zones around the country, with around 300 elephants roaming near them, according to officials.
The elephants are increasingly vulnerable because of the loss and degradation of their natural habitat. Many ventures closer to human settlements in search of food, and some are killed by poachers or farmers angry over damage to their crops. Hungry elephants seek out the waste in the landfill, consuming plastic as well as sharp objects that damage their digestive systems, Pushpakumara said.
“The elephants then stop eating and become too weak to keep their heavy frames upright. When that happens, they can’t consume food or water, which quickens their death,” he said.